So retreating to his old congressional district in suburban New Orleans, perhaps the only place in America where he’s held in high regard, the one-time wonder boy of American politics, Bobby Jindal, is expected to officially launch his presidential campaign today. The crowd may be amplified by people who want to meet Archie Manning, who’s scheduled to speak on Bobby’s behalf. And there may be more than a few aficionados of political theater who figure Jindal could say something spectacularly irresponsible to take advantage of his one clear chance to boost his national poll ratings enough to give him an outside shot of making the Fox News debate cut.
You can expect a fair amount of the obligatory one-day media coverage given to elected officials who run for president to dwell on the irony that the Smartest Man In Every Room is running on a yahoo platform of religious demagoguery and redneck defiance of elites. Having made such a thorough mess of his tenure as governor of Louisiana, however, it’s not like he can run on his wonky accomplishments, though there is a hammerheaded constituency for anyone who just comes out and admits he’s wrecked state government and the education system for the sheer destructive hell of it.
The bare thread of credibility for Jindal’s presidential run is that his approval-disapproval ratios aren’t bad (outside Louisiana, that is). The last big poll from Iowa, which is clearly his target state, showed him with a 43/19 approval ratio. Unfortunately, the same poll showed him tied for 14th in the horse-race numbers, just ahead of George Pataki. Sure, early horse-race numbers don’t usually matter a lot, but it’s helpful to show a political pulse when you’ve supposedly been a national political enfant terrible for well over a decade. And unfortunately for Bobby, he’s in a crowded Christian Right lane in Iowa, battling the last two Caucus winners, Huckabee and Santorum, plus Iowa front-runner Scott Walker, plus the retread who seems to be creating the greatest buzz in Iowa at present, Rick Perry. About all he can do right now to single himself out is to become the most feral beast in the wingnut forest, and truth is he just doesn’t look or sound the part.
There is always a remote chance that Bobby will step up to the microphone today and call the whole thing off. But then what would he do with himself? Stay home in Louisiana waiting for that call to become HHS Secretary in some other Republican’s cabinet? Maybe, though the Pelican State must seem like a vast prison to Jindal at this point, at least until he leaves office at the end of the year. Besides, if he were to drop out at this particular moment, he’d have to concede he’s the second-best-known Indian-American Republican governor, behind the decidedly non-cerebral Nikki Haley. That would be tough.
UPDATE: Jindal can score one small pre-launch victory. In her preview of his campaign for Bloomberg Politics, Margaret Newkirk refers to Bobby as an “evangelical Catholic” without the quote marks. So this made up term for religious pandering is now apparently a denomination. Good work, Bobby.